The World Today for June 28, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

A Voice, a Divide

AUSTRALIA

After a recent historic parliamentary vote, Australians will vote on a constitutional amendment to dramatically expand the protections of their Indigenous communities.

As a government website showed, the question will ask voters whether to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice as a constitutional body. The Voice to Parliament would be an independent and permanent advisor to governments on issues related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the former British colony, a parliamentary democracy where King Charles III is the head of state.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of the center-left Labor Party is supporting the measure, which voters must consider in the next two to six months.

“I say to my fellow Australians: parliaments pass laws, but it is people that make history,” Albanese told the Guardian and other outlets at a recent press conference. “This is your time, your chance, your opportunity to be a part of making history. It will be a moment of national unity, a chance to make our nation even greater.”

Indigenous Australians account for 3.2 percent of the country’s population, the Associated Press wrote. They are the country’s most disadvantaged ethnic community. Around a quarter of the country’s prison population, for example, is Aboriginal, Al Jazeera added. A third live below the poverty line.

Critics of the measure said that focusing public policies on race would exacerbate ethnic tensions and further divide the country. “It will have an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others,” said opposition leader Peter Dutton of the Liberal Party.

Dutton and his allies wondered if the Voice – if created – could argue that it had a say over national matters like Australia Day, siting military bases, and Reserve Bank decisions, noted the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The architects of the referendum don’t agree, of course. Now, as the campaign for votes to support their cause begins, the Voice’s advocates feel as if the world is watching, Reuters reported. Other countries, like Canada, have enshrined Indigenous rights and prerogatives in their constitutions. The Australian Constitution, in contrast, never explicitly mentions Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, who could not vote, incidentally, until the 1960s.

Meanwhile, the last referendum in Australia took place in 1999, when Australians rejected ditching their monarch in London and the governor-general who represents the monarch in Australia, and converting their government to a republic.

Some things change. Some things stay the same.

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